July 1st, 2011, 8:56 am

Falling Over "Falling Skies"

I love the old school "V" with Jane Balder and Robert Englund. I wanted to like the new "V", but from the few episodes I saw, it never handled the characterization and social commentary as well as the 1983 cult classic. "V" is unfortunately canceled, but there is another show which just might capture the gravitas of the original "V": the new sci-fi show "Falling Skies".

Think of "Falling Skies" as the anti-"Independence Day": mankind is on the losing side of an alien invasion. After launching a worldwide EMP, the "Skitters" dominate the world with mechs and airships. They also attach parasitic harnesses to kids, and control them for mysterious purposes. The remaining government is skeletal at best, with the military organizing resistance movements to fight the alien forces.

Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is an ex-history professor and second-in-command of the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment. Along with his hardcase commander Weaver (Will Patton), Mason leads a rag-tag army of soldiers and civilization to survival, and hopefully, freedom. With his young son Matt (Maxim Knight) and teenaged-son-turned-scout Hal (Drew Roy), Tom must also search for his missing son Ben (Connor Jessup), who is now a mind-controlled "Prisoner".

There's plenty of praise to go around in "Falling Skies", which isn't surprising considering its creative team. The show's executive producer is Steven Spielberg, and the show's producer is Spielberg's "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan" writer Robert Rodat. The two deserve plenty of credit for bringing this war-torn vision of the Eastern Sea Board to life.

The characters are realistic yet endearing. In particular, I enjoy the loyalty and camaraderie Mason's squad shows whenever following their leader into danger territory. Mason's squad isn't your typical resistance cell of tough-guys either, considering it includes an ex-con, two teenager scouts and a 12-year old boy. Every character brings something new to the table, but there's no guarantee any character will be there after the next mission, adding a degree of realism to the show's continuity.

The special effects are breathtaking, but they are truly effective because the filmmakers know how and when to use them. The multi-legged Skitters look very convincing, but the filmmakers don't press the CGI button unless its artistically practical. As a result, you don't see alot of blatant or outputting CGI shots, especially in close-ups. Meanwhile, the combination of make-up and traditional prosthetic also give the skitters a compelling and even soulful look up close.

For all "Falling Skies" practices what it preaches, it should preach a lot less. Mason's speech about "inferior forces triumphing over superior numbers throughout history" was looking tired the first time he said it, much less the next three or four times. I want to see Mason put the tactics of past military minds into practice in his current situation. So far, however, Mason has only used history to give inspiring lectures, with nothing in the way of solid tactics or insight.

Mason's counterweight Weaver isn't much better. Weaver's constant complaint about civilians is equally ham-fisted and unnecessary. Rodat is trying to raise the age-old question of "the role of soldiers vs. the role of civilians", but it doesn't really hold in a post-apocalyptic alien invasion. No one is sitting at home watching the war on CNN. Instead, the "civilians" are providing Weaver's army with food, clothes, supplies and medics - in other words they are basically non-combat support troops. To have Weaver calling them a hindrance makes him look bombastic and even idiotic as a commander.

That said, "Falling Skies" is an engrossing and addicting TV show. Every episode develops the mythology a little more. Hopefully the character will also undergo similar development. This needs to happen if the 2nd Massachusetts wants to soldier on for more than one season.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new blog and new comic next week!)

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